Category Archives: Food Safety
CDC: Mixed Progress in Food Safety Efforts
A new food safety progress report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows mixed results for the country’s safety efforts. While the rate of salmonella infections was down approximately 9 percent in 2013 compared to the previous three years, campylobacter infections—often linked to dairy products and chicken—are up 13 percent since 2006-2008. The CDC also found that vibrio infections, which are often linked to raw shellfish, were at the highest level since tracking began in 1996. “This year’s data show some recent progress in reducing salmonella rates, and also highlight that our work to reduce the burden of foodborne illness is far from over,” said Robert Tauxe, MD, MPH, deputy director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases. “To keep salmonella on the decline, we need to work with the food industry and our federal, state and local partners to implement strong actions to control known risks and to detect foodborne germs lurking in unsuspected foods.” The report’s data comes from the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet), a group of experts from CDC; ten state health departments; the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS); and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Read more on food safety.
FDA: Common Procedure to Remove Uterus, Uterine Fibroids Can Spread Cancer
A common procedure to remove the uterus or uterine fibroids can unintentionally spread cancerous tissue—such as uterine sarcomas—according to a new safety communication from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is discouraging the use of laparoscopic power morcellation. The procedure divides the uterine tissue into smaller fragments in order to remove them via a small abdominal incision. “The FDA’s primary concern as we consider the continued use of these devices is the safety and well-being of patients,” said William Maisel, MD, MPH, deputy director for science and chief scientist at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “There is no reliable way to determine if a uterine fibroid is cancerous prior to removal. Patients should know that the FDA is discouraging the use of laparoscopic power morcellation for hysterectomy or myomectomy, and they should discuss the risks and benefits of the available treatment options with their health care professionals.” Read more on cancer.
Approximately 12M U.S. Outpatients Misdiagnosed Each Year
Approximately 12 million U.S. adults are misdiagnosed each year in doctors’ office and other outpatient settings, with an estimated half of those mistakes potentially leading to serious harm, according to a new study set to be published in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety. The overall total means about one in every 20 patients are misdiagnosed. For the study researchers used data from three studies covering a sample pool of approximately 3,000 medical records. "It's important to outline the fact that this is a problem," said Hardeep Singh, MD, the study's lead author and a patient safety researcher at Baylor College of Medicine and at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, both in Houston, according to Reuters. "Because of the large number of outpatient visits, this is a huge vulnerability. This is a huge number and we need to do something about it.” Read more on access to care.
Urban Gardeners May Be Unaware of Harmful Soil Contaminants
In their quest to consume healthier foods, urban gardeners may actually be unaware of the presence of soil contaminants and how to deal with the issue, putting both gardeners and consumers at risk, according to a new study in PLOS One. Potential contaminants include heavy metals, petroleum products and asbestos, which can result when urban soil is near pollution sources, such as industrial areas and roads with heavy traffic. “Our study suggests gardeners generally recognize the importance of knowing a garden site’s prior uses, but they may lack the information and expertise to determine accurately the prior use of their garden site and potential contaminants in the soil,” said Keeve Nachman, PhD, senior author of the study and director of the Food Production and Public Health Program with the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. “They may also have misperceptions or gaps in knowledge about how best to minimize their risk of exposure to contaminants that may be in urban soil.” Read more food safety.
Study: 1 in 10 U.S. Adults Have Diabetes
Nearly one in 10 U.S. adults had diabetes in 2010, nearly double the percentage a little more than two decades ago, in 1988, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study determined that 21 million American adults—or 9.3 percent of all American adults—had either type 1 or type 2 diabetes in 2010. As many as 95 percent of diabetes cases are type 2 cases. "This study also highlights that the increase in diabetes really tracks closely with the epidemic of obesity,” said Elizabeth Selvin, the study's lead author and an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “The diabetes epidemic is really a direct consequence of the rise in obesity.” However, the report did find that cases of undiagnosed diabetes were down, indicating new screen techniques are effective. It also found that overall blood sugar control was improved. Read more on obesity.
U.S. Health Care Costs Climbed 3.2% in 2013, to $329.2 Billion
The cost of new medicines, price increases on some branded drugs and patent expirations helped cause the first rise in the overall cost of health services in the United States in three years, according to a new report from IMS Health Holdings Inc., a health care information company. Americans spent a total of $329.2 billion on health services in 2013, up from 3.2 percent from 2012, which had seen a 1 percent decline. However, the report noted that expanded use of cheaper generic drugs—86 percent of all prescription drugs—did help costs from rising even higher. Read more on access to health care.
HHS: Significant Improvement on Leading Health Indicators that Influence Reduction in Preventable Disease and Death
A new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Healthy People 2020, finds that the country’s health is importing in more than half—14 of 26—of the critical measures known to have a major influence in reducing preventable disease and death. The Leading Health Indicators include categories such as access to care; maternal and child health; tobacco use; nutrition; and physical activity. “The Leading Health Indicators are intended to motivate action to improve the health of the whole population,” said Howard Koh, MD, Assistant Secretary for Health, in a release. “Today’s LHI Progress Report shows that we are doing just that.” Among the indicators that been met or are improving:
- Fewer adults smoking cigarettes
- Fewer children exposed to secondhand smoke
- More adults meeting physical activity targets
- Fewer adolescents using alcohol or illicit drugs
Read more on HHS.
Study: Americans Twice as Likely to Get Food Poisoning from Restaurants than at Home
Americans are twice as likely to get food poisoning from food at a restaurant than they are from food at home, according to a new study from the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The organization analyzed “solved” outbreaks over a ten-year period, finding that 1,610 outbreaks in restaurants sickened more than 28,000 people while 893 outbreaks linked to private homes sickened approximately 13,000 people. The study also determined that of the 104 outbreaks linked to milk, about 70 percent were caused by raw milk—meaning that while less than one percent of consumers drink raw milk, they account for 70 percent of the illnesses caused by milk-borne outbreaks. The researchers also expressed concern over the 42 percent drop in reported outbreaks from 2011 to 2012. "Underreporting of outbreaks has reached epidemic proportions," said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. "Yet the details gleaned from outbreak investigations provide essential information so public health officials can shape food safety policy and make science-based recommendations to consumers. Despite the improvements in food safety policy in the past decade, far too many Americans still are getting sick, being hospitalized, or even dying due to contaminated food." Read more on food safety.
Study: Antipsychotic Medications for Foster Care Youth Remain High
Use of antipsychotic medications for unlabeled indications such as treatment for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is increasing among youth in foster care, according to a new study in the Journal of Adolescent Psychopharmacology. Researchers from the University of Maryland, Morgan State University and the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions analyzed data on 266,590 youth ages 2-17 years and continuously enrolled in a mid-Atlantic state Medicaid program in 2006, finding that approximately one-third of the ADHD-diagnosed foster care youth included in the assessment received atypical antipsychotics. This study adds critical hard data to our understanding of a persistent and unacceptable trend in pediatric psychiatry," said Harold S. Koplewicz, MD, Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, and President, Child Mind Institute, in a release. "Our poorest, most vulnerable children, lacking access to evidence-based care, are receiving potentially harmful treatment with little oversight. The highlight of Burcu et al.'s paper for any reader should be the simple but necessary recommendations for antipsychotic prescribing and monitoring in these populations." Read more on prescription drugs.
Study: Prescriptions for Opioids Steadying After Nearly Tripling over Two Decades
After nearly tripling from 1991 to 2010—from 76 million annually to 210 million annually—prescriptions for opioid analgesics in the United States are stabilizing, according to a new reporting in the journal Public Health Reports. Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health attributed much of the success to stopping the soaring number of prescriptions to state-implemented prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs). “We found that PDMPs administered by state health departments appeared to be more effective than those administered by other government agencies, such as the bureau of narcotics and the board of pharmacy, ” said senior author Guohua Li, MD, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention. Read more on prescription drugs.
Study: Mother’s Monitoring of Kids’ Media Consumption Tied to Changes in Weight
Children whose mothers pay more attention to their kids’ media habits—how much time they spend watching television or playing video games—are more likely to weigh less than children who do not receive the same sort of supervision, according to a new study in JAMA Pediatrics. Researchers found that kids with mothers who monitored their media consumption were thinner at age seven and gained less weight over the following few years. While the authors said they cannot point to the exact reason for the relationship, possibilities include vigilant mothers who encourage more physical activity and the fact that the kids are exposed to fewer food advertisements. The study used a questionnaire to asses 112 mothers, 103 fathers and their 213 children; media monitoring by fathers was not linked to weight gain or loss. Stacey Tiberio, the study's lead author from the Oregon Social Learning Center in Eugene, told Reuters Health that the results emphasize the important role that early adolescence plays with weight. "It's basically a one-way door," she said. "If you are obese by middle childhood, you have an increased likelihood of staying in that group." Read more on obesity.
Finding Unlisted Milk Protein, FDA Announces Recall of Certain Simply Lite Chocolate Products
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced a recall of certain lots of Simply Lite brand dark chocolate bars after finding significant amounts of milk protein, which the product does not list as an ingredient. FDA testing found more than 3,500 parts per million of milk protein in single 3-ounce bars of the chocolate—or the equivalent found in about 4 teaspoons of whole milk. People with milk allergies or sensitivity to milk could have serious or even life-threatening reactions to the product. Consumers with questions about food safety can contact the FDA at 1-888-SAFEFOOD Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Go here for complete information on the recall. Read more on food safety.
This month the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published a special issue of its magazine devoted to food. There weren’t any recipes, unless you count “recipes” for a healthier planet, which can be reached by following some of the recommendations in the supplement.
“Changing what we eat is more complex than it sounds,” writes the school’s dean, Michael Klag, MD, MPH. “It involves not just personal choice but also changing methods of food production and delivery systems so that the right choice becomes the default choice. A new ‘Green Revolution’ that relies on sustainable methods of food production will require partnerships of farmers, agronomists, development agencies and policymakers. Interventions to change the norms of what we eat must be culturally appropriate, and take into account the context of nutritional needs within the population. Such interventions will require partners who understand human and plant biology, behavior, economics and policy. This type of multidisciplinary, population-based effort is a centerpiece of public health...”
Key features of the issue include:
- RX for the Future: How the WIC program got its start
- Planting Health: The seeding of public health
- Photo Gallery: Capturing our relationship with food across the globe
Study: HPV Vaccine Doesn’t Lead to More, Riskier Sex for Young Women
Despite the concerns of some parents, being vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV)—which causes cervical cancer—does not increase young women’s sexual behavior, either in terms of the number of partners or the decision not to use condoms, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers studied 339 women between the ages of 13 and 14, finding that after receiving the first vaccine most agreed it was still necessary to generally practice safe sex. On a scale from zero to 10, where lower scores indicate better understanding of risks, they scored an average of 1.6 on knowledge about safe sex practices. They also scored a 3.9 on their perceptions of the risk of sexually transmitted infections. "To me, the issue is laid to rest," said Jessica Kahn, MD, of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio. "As clinicians and researchers, we have no concerns that vaccination will lead to riskier sexual behaviors." The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends HPV vaccinations for both boys and girls. Read more on sexual health.
CDC Set to Launch 2014 ‘Tips From Former Smokers’ Campaign
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is set to launch the 2014 phase of "Tips From Former Smokers" (Tips), its annual television, radio and print campaign. The campaign will include Terrie Hall, the then 52-year-old Lexington, N.C., woman shown in a previous ad who had ultimately had her voice box removed as a result of throat cancer caused by a two-pack-a-day habit for 23 years. She since died of tobacco-related illness. "Over 20 million Americans have died because of smoking since 1964...But when you talk about a number that big, people have no way to put their hands around it,” said Tim McAfee, MD, the Atlanta-based director of the CDC's office on smoking and health."So we thought that for smokers and non-smokers, we needed to put a face on this. Because we felt that if we gave the American people an opportunity to get to know the suffering one person has had to go through because of smoking, it could have an enormous impact." Read more on tobacco.
FDA Proposes New Sanitation Rules for Food in Transport
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed new regulations to improve sanitation and prevent contamination of human and animal food during transportation by both motor vehicles and rail. The new rule would be the final major rule in the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act’s central framework. “We are now one step closer to fully implementing the comprehensive regulatory framework for prevention that will strengthen the FDA’s inspection and compliance tools, modernize oversight of the nation’s food safety system, and prevent foodborne illnesses before they happen,” said Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. The new criteria would address areas such as properly refrigerating food, adequately cleaning vehicles between loads and properly protecting food during transportation. Read more on food safety.
Obese Children More Susceptible to Air Pollution-Related Asthma
Obese children are more susceptible to air pollution-related asthma, according to a new study in the journal Environmental Research. Researchers followed the health of 311 children, ages 5 and 6, in predominantly Dominican and African-American neighborhoods of New York City, finding that high exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)—a family of air pollutants—was only associated with asthma among obese children The study determined that obese children exposed to the PAH chemicals 1-methylphenanthrene and 9- methylphenanthrene were two to three times more likely to have asthma. PAHs are emitted by vehicles, cigarette smoke, cooking, incense, burning candles and various other indoor sources. Two possible explanations for the disparity are that obese children tend to be less active, so are more likely to be exposed to indoors sources of PAH, and that they may breathe more rapidly than children of healthier weights Better understanding of the risk factors opens the door to more targeted interventions. “These findings suggest that we may be able to bring down childhood asthma rates by curbing indoor, as well as outdoor, air pollution and by implementing age-appropriate diet and exercise programs,” said senior author Rachel Miller, MD, professor of medicine (in pediatrics) and environmental health sciences, and co-deputy director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health. Read more on pediatrics.
Report: Antibiotics Dangerous to Humans Still Used in Livestock
Despite knowing their risk to humans, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to allow the use of certain antibiotics as additives in animal feed and water, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council based on documents acquired under the Freedom of Information Act. In a review from 2001 to 2010 the FDA concluded that 30 such antibiotics posed a significant risk of exposing people to antibiotic- resistance bacteria. The drugs were approved for “non-therapeutic” use in farm animals, such as preventing disease or promoting growth of the animals, instead of treating specific illnesses. In December the FDA announced its intention to combat the spread of antibacterial resistance by prohibiting the use of medically important antimicrobials in food animals for food production purposes, while also adding veterinary oversight to therapeutic use of the drugs in animals. Read more on food safety.
Residents of Public Housing Developments, Rental Assistance Units See Significant Gap in Oral Health Care
People who live in public housing developments and rental assistance units are less likely to have routine preventive dental care and more likely to have suffered serious oral health issues related to tooth loss, according to a new study in The Journal of Urban Health. The study was conducted by the Partners in Health and Housing Prevention Research Center (PHH-PRC) at the Boston University School of Public Health. The researchers looked at four indicators for people living in Boston’s publicly supported housing: having had a dental visit in the last year, having had a dental cleaning in the last year, having had six or more teeth extracted, and having dental insurance. They found that people in public housing, despite being as likely to have had a dental visit in the past year, were significantly less likely to have had a cleaning. The gap in health care is especially serious for the seniors in this already vulnerable population: Compared to younger residents, seniors 65-75 years old were 30 times as likely to have had six or more teeth removed. Read more on prevention.
UC Santa Barbara Might Use Unapproved Vaccine to Combat Meningitis Outbreak
Health officials confirmed late last week that they are considering administering the unapproved vaccine Bexsero to halt the spread of a bacterial meningitis outbreak that has sickened four students at UC Santa Barbara. Three of the students have recovered fully, with the fourth requiring the amputation of both feet. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working with the California state and Santa Barbara County departments of public health to determine whether the vaccine would be effective against the strain; Bexsero, which is not yet approved for use in the United States, is for type B meningococcal disease. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently granted Princeton University permission to use the vaccine, after eight students became sick from a similar strain of what has struck UC Santa Barbara. Read more on infectious disease.
AAP Calls for Ban on U.S. Sale of Raw or Unpasteurized Milk
The risk of infection has led the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee on Infectious Diseases and Committee on Nutrition to not only recommend against the consumption of raw or unpasteurized milk by pregnant women, babies and kids, but to call for the complete ban of its sale in the United States. Pasteurization kills bacteria by heating the milk to a minimum of 161 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 seconds before cooling it quickly; at least 97 percent of U.S. dairy products are pasteurized. From 1998 through 2011 there were 148 disease outbreaks related to raw milk or raw milk products, leading to 284 hospitalizations and two deaths. "It's kind of like riding in a car with seatbelts," said Kathryn Boor, dean of Cornell University’s school’s Agriculture and Life Sciences, who was not involved in the study. "If you've got the opportunity for a safety barrier, which would be pasteurization, why wouldn't you use it?" Read more on food safety.
Study: Lack of Sleep in Kids Increases Blood Pressure
Lack of adequate sleep can lead to higher blood pressure even in children who are a healthy weight, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Monitoring 143 Chinese youth in a sleep lab, the researchers determined that one fewer hour of sleep per night increased systolic blood pressure by 2 millimeters of mercury (mm/Hg) and diastolic blood pressure by 1 mm/Hg. All of the participants, ages 10-18, were normal weight and did not have sleep apnea. "Pediatricians must screen for diabetes, and [high blood pressure] in teenagers with sleep loss besides screening for snoring and sleep apnea in obese teenagers," said Sanjeev Kothare, MD, a pediatric sleep expert at NYU Langone Medical Center, who was not involved in the study. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 10-11 hours of sleep per night for children ages 5-12, and at least 8.5 hours per night for teenagers. Read more on pediatrics.
2013 America’s Health Rankings Finds Significant Progress in National Health
The new 2013 America’s Health Rankings from the United Health Foundation finds that while there is still much progress to be made, over the past year Americans improved in the majority of the measures that the Rankings use to rate public health. The improved areas include smoking rates, which fell to 19.6 percent of the adult population, from 21.2 percent the previous year, as well as physical inactivity, which fell to 22.9 percent from 26.2 percent. Also, for the first time since 1998 the obesity rate did not rise. With low rates of uninsured people, high rates of childhood immunization and low rates of health issues such as obesity and smoking, Hawaii ranked as the healthiest state in the country. Read more on community health.
FDA to Phase Out Use of Certain Antimicrobials in Food Animals
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is moving forward with a plan to combat the spread of antibacterial resistance by prohibiting the use of medically important antimicrobials in food animals for food production purposes, while also adding veterinary oversight to therapeutic use of the drugs in animals. Antimicrobials can be used in the food and drinking water of cattle, poultry and other food animals to encourage weight gain. However, these same antimicrobials are used to treat infections in humans, and their availability in the food supply increases the possibility of the development of antimicrobial resistance. The FDA is giving companies three months to sign on to the strategy, then three years to transition. “This action promotes the judicious use of important antimicrobials to protect public health while ensuring that sick and at-risk animals receive the therapy they need,” said Bernadette Dunham, DVM, PhD, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. “We realize that these steps represent changes for veterinarians and animal producers, and we have been working—and will continue to work—to make this transition as seamless as possible.” Read more on food safety.
HHS: 365,000 Enrolled Under Affordable Care Act in October, November
The official numbers are in, with almost 365,000 people selecting plans in the Health Insurance Marketplace in October and November, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. About 1.9 million people have gone through the online process, but have just not yet selected a plan, while more than 800,000 were determined eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The site went live at the beginning of October, but extensive bugs and glitches meant only about 27,000 people were able to sign up in that first month. Last week a reconfigured HealthCare.gov was launched after about five weeks of work spent addressing the problems, and 29,000 people were able to sign up during the first two days alone. Thirty-six states use HealthCare.gov, with fourteen states and Washington, D.C. maintaining their own sites. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.
Among the best pieces of advice people can look to today, the day before Thanksgiving, is a primer on safe food preparation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, including a video on just how to stuff that turkey.
Additionally, when it comes to safety this holiday season, there are also ways to help keep yourself and your purchases safe as Thanksgiving morphs into Black Friday. Tech guru Shelly Palmer reported recently that, according to the New York City police department, 14 percent of crime in that city is linked to Apple computer products, while police in other cities note technology thefts of all kinds as the holiday shopping season gets into full swing. Apple is alerting buyers of the latest model iPhones that the devices now come with a security feature that requires a User ID and password to disable the "Find my Phone" feature, which helps police track down stolen phones. Tech experts say widespread use of the Apple feature can help deter theft--and possible harm--during a robbery.
Another thing to be aware of this shopping season, when people will be out and about on busy streets, is what's come to be known as the "Knockout Game," where the goal is knock a random person unconscious with a single punch. CNN and other news outlets have posted stories about reports of random violence in several U.S. and foreign cities, and at least one city is considering punishing juveniles found guilty of the attack as an adult rather than a child--which can mean years of jail time. However, The New York Times recently added its voice to the growing national discussion with a story questioning whether the "game" is in fact an urban myth, saying that it's possible these assaults are random acts of violence, and that even New York City police officials are still trying to determine the truth.
Nonetheless, while questions over the "game" remain, the assaults are very real. According to CNN, a police spokesman in Pittsburgh says people who appear distracted--such as those checking phones or listening to music through headphones--may be more vulnerable to attacks.
>>Bonus Link: The National Crime Prevention Council offers tips on safe holiday shopping, including shopping with a friend for added security.